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TRANSRIGHTS Report Summary

Project ID: 615594
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Portugal

Periodic Report Summary 2 - TRANSRIGHTS (Gender citizenship and sexual rights in Europe: transgender lives from a transnational perspective)

The TRANSRIGHTS project aims to reflect upon gender and citizenship by focusing on trans-people (namely, transsexuals, transgenders, crossdressers and other forms of gender identifications) as subjects whose recognition constitutes one of the most challenging boundaries for framing contemporary debates about human and gender rights. Against this backdrop and when trans-people and trans-rights gained unprecedented visibility, our analysis focuses on the workings of gender through the ‘voices’ of trans-people, and their forms of self-identification vis-à-vis the institutional apparatus (whether legal, medical, political or even social-scientific). The research compares five European countries from South to North: Portugal, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Sweden. However, instead of a research cloistered in Europe, we resorted to a transnational perspective and considered migration as a key element that advances our understanding of the power differentials that oppose still the global north to the global south. Often, through subtle processes of neo-colonization that reproduce the hegemony of Anglophone centres, namely the US, and contribute to feed otherness and the increased marginalization of some trans-individuals.

Drawing on an extensive empirical research that combined document analysis of legal and medical developments, multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork (ranging from political and activist venues to street trans sex work) and in-depth interviews, we interpret our data as a privileged locus from which to investigate the doings of gender and gender politics.
Our findings pinpoint two main developments.

Firstly, life narratives and ethnographic observation showed the multiplicity of identifications and trajectories under the Trans-umbrella, ranging from the medicalized codification of trans as a transition (a journey between poles of normalcy), trans as a confirmation (the pre-existence of an identity before performative becoming), and trans as transgression (when the exaggeration of difference intends to create the possibilities of difference itself). In these discourses and embodiments of trans-gender we discover the importance of individuality anchored in a lexicon of recognition, which mirrors a particular momentum of transformation. Additionally, our cross-national data reveal that under the trans-umbrella gender still matters as a structure of power, with transgender and transsexual women suffering even higher degrees of discrimination and violence. If homophobia and transphobia are a reality, a particular form of violence can be termed as femmephobia, thereby revealing that gender change and pluralization is coupled with the continuous oppression of the feminine.

Secondly, when analysing changes in medical and legal apparatuses, we mobilized conceptions of power that emphasize both material constraints and discursive disciplinarization of gender diversity. Currently, international and national political and legal resolutions support the recognition of transgender individuals based on self-determination, and even self-identification beyond masculinity or femininity. Alongside anti-discrimination policies, the struggles against medical pathologization, including the right to choose one’s own gender without a diagnosis of gender dysphoria or disorder, have become central claims for activists, with gender identity laws already being changed or discussed in a number of countries across the globe. Some are included in our research, as Sweden or Portugal. However, while gender self-determination emerged as a human right against the medicalized model of transsexuality established by the psychiatrist Harry Benjamin in the 1950s, reconciling rights with gender and sexual diversity is not a consensual topic or strategy. Concerns with healthcare, anti-discrimination policies or the effectiveness of legal changes that are yet unable to respond to the wide range of activist demands remain a challenge for future debates. By and large, the rights of trans-people represent a fracturing problem to be addressed from the standpoint of social and gender justice insofar as they pose resistance to the inclusion in the old and unequal categories of gendered selfhood and foster debates around notions of pathology, normalcy or gendered personhood itself.

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